Kenora, Ont., shelter to have new operator as of July 1

Kenora’s controversial emergency shelter will have a new operator as of July 1.

The Kenora Service Hub has been operated by the NeeChee Friendship Centre in the Annex of Knox United Church, on the edge of the city’s downtown, since last summer.

While the location of the shelter will not change, the group running the programming inside of the facility will.

Henry Wall, the CAO of the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) said a decision to close the shelter last summer, just after it opened, showed the model implemented for the shelter was not working.

“Given the challenges that were faced last summer, with respect to just shortly after the opening of the shelter and then temporarily closing it, it certainly caused for us to really look as a collective, what needs to be done in this community.” 

Wall said the decision to find a new operator was made at a board meeting, involving NeeChee. He said two operators are interested in running the facility starting July 1, but no decision has yet been made.

We “don’t want to go through what we did last summer,” he said, referring to the temporary closure of the shelter, along with a public debate on the viability, location, and programming at the facility. 

Wall said homelessness is Kenora is changing, with more and more people facing additions to crystal meth, which requires very different treatment than alcohol addictions, which had been normalized in the community.

The City of Kenora, along with NeeChee and OPP held a few public meetings, so popular tickets were needed to attend, on discussions around homelessness and the shelter. The issue created a division in Kenora on how to deal with issues surrounding the shelter and the population it serves.

“Getting the shelter to the original vision that was had as we were gearing up to open it,” is the goal, said Wall, which included having health supports on site, and dealing with addictions issues up front.

“When individuals enter the shelter, that the first thought is not where the individual is going to find rest for the night, however, how do we ensure this person is getting off the streets on a permanent basis.”

Wall said the KDSB will look for guidance through Grand Council Treaty Three, as well as other partners and programs in Kenora.

“We’re in a very unique situation,” he said, noting the programming and needs of the shelter can be given a fresh start with a new operator.

Wall said homelessness in Kenora will change over the next few years, with a new transitional housing unit, as well as a bail housing program slated to open in the community. It would give some people who use the current shelter a place to stay, he said.

He said NeeChee had done a great job of operating the new facility, even though the organization was no longer going to operate the facility just a year after it opened.

“It’s difficult work, it’s incredibly difficult work. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

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